15 Best Ab Workouts for Women, According to Top Fitness Experts
The phrase “abs are made in the kitchen” definitely holds true, but certified personal trainer and Gold’s AMP coach Ally McKinney says that ab workouts for women can also help to reduce low back pain, build stability, and improve our posture.
Not only is your core the center of your entire body, but it’s utilized in practically every single movement that you make and plays a huge role in your overall strength. A weak core can lead to other muscles overcompensating and puts us at a greater risk for injury.
While many of us may try to rush through an ab workout, remember that slow is always best when it comes to core exercises. Slow down, move with control, and breath through each movement.
Fitness Experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute teamed up with the top fitness trainers and professional athletes to bring you the best ab workout moves to add to your exercise routine.
Try this format for a great 10 minute workout routine at home:
- Pick three moves from the exercises listed below.
- Perform the movement for 30 seconds on, 15 seconds off.
- Repeat four times through for each movement to complete one full set.
- Rest for one minute in between sets before switching to the next movement.
1. Tabletop Crunch and Reach
Personal trainer and QALO fitness ambassador Taylor Wittick brings a twist to the traditional crunch by lifting the legs to a tabletop position and adding an overhead extension.
How to: Lay flat on your back and bend both knees at a 90-degree angle above you. Grab a lightweight in both hands. Perform a crunch, reaching the weight past your knees and towards your ankles. As you lower out of the crunch, simultaneously extend your arms over your head and straighten your legs out away from you at an angle. Return to your starting position by bringing your legs back to 90 degrees and crunching at the same time.
2. Reverse Crunch Heel Touches
Wittick says that most reverse crunches involve rocking your legs up into your chest, but this movement stops before the rocking motion to focus on engaging your lower abdominals.
How-to: Laying flat on your back, place your hands behind your head. Bend your knees and bring them up into a 90-degree angle, then lift up into a crunch. Try to touch your heels to the ground while maintaining a 90-degree position in your legs and holding the static crunch. Do NOT arch your back; only lower your legs as far as your core can hold. Then, lift your legs back to the tabletop position as you breathe out. Consider adding ankle weights to make this move more challenging once you establish the proper form.
3. Crunch and Reach
Add an extra reach at the end of your standard crunch to really feel the burn and get the most out of the movement.
How to: Start by laying on your back with your arms extended overhead and knees bent so your feet are flat on the floor. Use your arms as a lever to bring them up as you crunch your core, lifting your head and keeping the neck long while raising your shoulder blades of the floor. At the top of the crunch, reach your arms in between your knees for a pulse further, then slowly lower back down and arms go back overhead.
4. Bicycle Crunch
Fhitting Room’s Pierre Armand swears by the bicycle crunch, which is a major move in his ABS Focus classes. Armand says that the move is simplistic in concept but when performed correctly, it lights up all the abdominals.
How to: Lie flat on the floor with legs straight in front of you and your lower back pressed into the floor. Place your hands behind your head and be sure not to squash your neck; think about keeping the neck long and lifted throughout the movement, almost like you were holding an apple just below your chin. Lift your shoulder blades off the ground, and pull your right knee into your chest while bringing your left elbow to meet the right knee. Switch sides and do the same motion on the opposite side with the right elbow touching the left knee. During the movement, the straight leg should be hovering a few inches above the ground.
5. Forearm Plank Walkouts
Karena Dawn and Katrina Scott, personal trainers and co-founders of Tone It Up, love this variation of the plank that requires extra stability through the abdominals.
How to: Place forearms on the floor with elbows aligned below shoulders and arms parallel to your body at about shoulder width. Press your toes into the floor and squeeze your glutes. From here, walk your right foot out a few inches and then your left foot out a few inches. While marching your feet out and in, focus on stabilizing your core and not letting your hips move.
6. One Leg Plank
This plank variation can be done using your body weight, or for an added challenge try adding a resistance band on your thighs just above your knees.
How to: Place forearms on the floor with elbows aligned below shoulders and arms parallel to your body at about shoulder width. Press your toes into the floor and squeeze your glutes. From here, lift your right foot up a few inches and hold for about 5-10 seconds. Lower the right foot down, and repeat with the left foot.
7. Mountain Climbers
This move is guaranteed to let you feel the burn. Go slow and controlled, and Scott says to place gliders under your feet for an even harder challenge.
How to: Start in a plank position with your arms straight and wrists directly under your shoulders. Your body should be in one long plane, with toes pressed into the ground and glutes engaged. Alternate bringing either knee into your chest. For a greater challenge, cross right knee over to touch opposite left elbow, and same thing on the other side.
8. Starfish Crunch
Dawn is known for this variation of the v-up where you fully extend your arms and legs at the bottom to target every inch of your abdominals. This move is a staple for their workouts on the Tone It Up app.
How to: Begin laying on the ground with your arms and legs spread in a starfish shape. Using your core muscles, pull your body in tight and upright and hug your knees into a ball shape. Then, slowly lower back down and repeat.
9. Alternating Straight-Leg Jackknife
By alternating this movement on either side, you engage a variety of core stabilizing muscles including the obliques.
How to: Lie flat on the floor with your arms and legs extended. Take a deep breath and as you exhale, contract your abs and simultaneously raise your right leg up to the ceiling and your opposite left arm to touch your right foot. Lower back down slowly, and repeat on the other side so that your opposite hand touches the opposite foot.
10. Russian Twist
This classic ab move targets the obliques. The key to the Russian twist is to lower the back down to the point where you feel engagement in your core. You can do this without a weight, or grab a dumbbell or medicine ball for extra resistance.
How to: Sit with your knees bent and chest lifted. Lower back until you have to engage your core but the spine is straight. You can hold a weight with both hands or just hold your hands together. Twist from side to side with control, moving your hands or the weight with you. Heels can be on the ground or lifted a few inches up in the air.
11. Swiss Ball Planks
Olympian and Team USA track and field athlete Colleen Quigley says that the Swiss ball adds instability so you have to constantly fight for your balance while on top of it. Pro tip: Quigley says don’t let your hips drop and don’t stick your butt in the air. Focus on a straight line from the heels to the top of your head.
How to: Place your elbows on the Swiss ball and toes on the ground so you are holding a plank position. Carefully move the Swiss ball slightly forward and back, extending your plank and then bringing it back in. Try to keep your hips even and still, bracing through the core.
12. Side Plank Variations
Side planks are great for targeting the obliques, but they can be boring. Quigley uses these two variations to mix things up and help the time pass by.
1. Leg lifts: Start in a side plank position with your body in one long plane. Lift up, then raise your top leg up and down about 10 times, touching your bottom foot and lifting again.
2. Hip dips: Start in a side plank position with your body in one long plane. Dip your hips down a few inches, and then bring them back up nice and controlled.
McKinney is all about adding rotation to plank exercises in order to target every layer of the muscle in your core.
How to: Start in a strong plank position with your hands stacked under your shoulders, glutes squeezed, and your belly button pulled into your spine. From there, shift your weight to one side and allow your body to rotate as your hips open. Your feet will move with the rotation. Once your body has shifted 90 degrees and you are in a side plank position, shift your weight once again and return to the standard plank. Alternate sides with every rep and do not let your plank position suffer.
14. Hollow Hold
McKinney says that we need a hollow position for nearly every exercise movement out there. “By pressing and keep your low back pushed into the ground, we are getting more control in our hips and helping our body learn to stay in a neutral position, even when we are not thinking about it,” she shares.
How to: Start by lying on your back on the ground. Knees should be bent with your feet off the ground. Arms should be extended toward the ceiling. Keeping your low back pressed into the ground, slowly begin to extend your legs as far as you can without your low back arching off the ground. Once your low back starts to come off the ground, you have found your hollow hold position. If you can fully extend your legs and keep them hovering off the ground, then you can slowly start to drop your arms back into an overhead position. This movement is commonly held 20-30 seconds at a time in a beginner routine.
15. Pilates 100
Once you have mastered the hollow body move, you’re ready to take things up and notch and try the Pilates 100. This is a great addition to any workout routine and can be added on to ab specific workouts or after any cardio exercise.
How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent in a 90 degree angle. Point your toes and squeeze your heels together, then extend your legs straight out on a diagonal so they are about a 65 degree angle from the floor. Lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the mat and extend your arms right by your sides. You’ll want to hold this position throughout the entire exercise. Keep the neck lifted and chest open. Begin pumping your straight arms up and down by your sides, inhaling through the nose for 5 counts and then exhaling through the mouth for 5 counts for a total of 10 times (that’s one set). You’ll perform this for a total of 10 sets or 100 pumps through.